ZOLTEK News and Events

Follow along with ZOLTEK's progress as we make the news, attend events, and share our views surrounding commercializing carbon fiber

Carbon Fiber vs Steel: Who Does It Better?

On the topic of carbon fiber vs steel, there are a number of differences that might make one favorable over the other. You’ll find that carbon fiber and steel each have qualities that provide unparalleled performance in specific applications. But to understand which is “better” per se, you’ll want to know the key differences between carbon fiber and steel.

Key Differences Between Carbon Fiber and Steel

Common in both industrial and household applications, steel and carbon fiber are known primarily for their remarkable strength and durability. In their everyday applications, both steel and carbon fiber are reliable materials that are built to withstand wear and tear for extended periods of time. But of course, there are notable differences between the two.

Strength

Though steel is generally considered the standard when it comes to construction and industrial settings, in terms of strength to weight ratios, carbon fiber is actually significantly stronger than steel. In this application, “strength” is defined by a material’s resistance to deformation or “modulus of elasticity”. Both carbon fiber and steel have moduli of elasticity upwards of 200 gigapascals (GPa) so either material is remarkably stiff and ideal for a number of high-stress applications.

Wait, if both carbon fiber and steel have comparable moduli of elasticity, how can you say that carbon fiber is stronger?

An excellent observation that leads us to our next point…

Weight

While both carbon fiber and steel are supremely resistant to deformation, steel is far denser and carbon fiber is about five times lighter in weight, making it roughly five times stronger than steel in this respect. Because of its incomparable strength to weight ratio, carbon fiber is the preferred choice for applications in which minimizing weights is imperative (aerospace, sporting goods, etc.).

Corrosion Resistance

Although the curing epoxy can react to sunlight and other elements, the carbon fiber itself is made from a chemically stable material and is corrosion-resistant making it a perfect choice for applications in harsh environments. Steel, on the other hand, is highly susceptible to oxidation when exposed to moisture in the atmosphere (although certain steel alloys have better resistance to corrosion). In terms of corrosion resistance, carbon fiber wins hands down.

Cost

At the end of the day, steel is typically a more cost-effective material as compared to carbon fiber. But consider that carbon fiber costs must include manufacturing process costs, skilled labor costs, as well as material costs. Comparatively speaking, producing carbon fiber is a very precise and time-consuming process, but it’s worth it in the end. While carbon fiber components may cost a bit more, they are stronger, lighter, and built to last much longer than a steel counterpart.

Steel and carbon fiber are both substantially strong and, depending on the applications in which they’re being used, built to last. Both have their own advantages and places in industrial settings and it’s safe to say neither will be replacing the other any time soon. To learn more about carbon fiber and the benefits it offers, contact Zoltek.